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Modeling and Forecasting the Malawi Kwacha-US Dollar Nominal Exchange Rate

Simwaka, Kisu (2007): Modeling and Forecasting the Malawi Kwacha-US Dollar Nominal Exchange Rate. Forthcoming in:

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Abstract

This study develops a blended version of the monetary and portfolio models for the MK/USD exchange rate, and assesses the forecasting performance of the model against a simple random walk. The results indicate that the model performs better than the simple random walk on the 6, 12 and 24 months forecasting horizons. However, the model does not perform well on the 3-month horizon, which is supported by theory suggesting that exchange rate movements are not driven by fundamentals in the short term. We also add a variable drift term to the random walk process and compare its performance against both the simple random walk and the fundamental model. The results show that random walk (with a variable drift) performs better than the other models in out-of-sample process at both short term and long term horizons. This result suggests that this (the random walk with a drift) process might be the best tool for exchange rate forecasting on all the forecast horizons. When it comes to exchange rate forecasting in the long term, a fundamental model might still be the best alternative.

Regarding the structural model (with fundamental determinants of nominal exchange rate), the empirical results indicate that a worsening current account balance and decreases in net external flows result the depreciation of exchange rates. This is in line with practical experience. On the other hand, higher domestic interest rates have an insignificant impact on exchange rate. In an economy with several structural bottlenecks and poor infrastructural services, high interest rates cannot be expected to induce capital flows. A rise in domestic inflation is associated with a deprecated exchange rate. Lastly, consistent with theoretical expectations, another significant finding is that an easing in monetary policy (increase in money supply growth) is associated with a depreciation of the exchange rate.

These findings lead us to make the following conclusions. Developments in the current account balance have implications on the exchange rate market. Measures aimed at improving the current account position, for example through exports, are also instrumental in stabilizing the exchange rate – through appreciation. Considering that Malawi has been traditionally depending on tobacco as its chief foreign exchange earner, and taking into account the anti-smoking campaign militating against the crop amidst low prices, it is imperative that Malawi should diversify into other foreign exchange earner (for instance tourism) in order to ensure macroeconomic stability, which itself is a pre-requisite for economic growth and therefore poverty reduction. Thus, policies that influence exports and imports of goods and services also determine exchange rate movements. Likewise, prospects concerning funding for a donor aid dependent economy like ours may influence the direction of market forces in determining the exchange rate movements. Big swings in external funding could cause instability Therefore, government’s credibility regarding the use of external public funds and implementation of related reforms is important in as far as stability of the foreign exchange market and overall macroeconomic stability are concerned.

The insignificant impact of higher domestic interest on attracting capital flows calls for the need for government to address some structural bottlenecks. For instance, infrastructure services such road network and utilities (electricity and water supply) require improvement. Otherwise, currently, Malawi needs lower interest rates in order to reduce the cost of credit necessary for private sector development. The general picture from the results is that developments in the external sector of the economy, which are not under the ambit of domestic authorities, probably contributed more to fluctuations of the Malawi kwacha. If indeed the above diagnosis is accurate, the policy implications of government’s ability in influencing the behavior of the exchange rate is limited. This is because the ability of a small economy like that of Malawi to fully insulate itself from external shocks is constrained. It will mainly be confined to limiting the contributions of inconsistencies in domestic policy and administering some confidence building measures, at least in the short-term-to medium term

It is worthy to note that divergent opinions exist as to the usefulness of devaluation (or depreciation) as a policy tool. There are those that believe devaluation as a policy tool can boost exports and so crate jobs. It should be noted however that since the kwacha was floated in 1994, it has been on a depreciating trend almost continuously without corresponding gains from the export sector. Without losing sight of the interest of exporters, it should be noted that a depreciated kwacha has implications in terms of increased import expenditures (oil import bill), government debt service, domestic inflation and cost of imported intermediate inputs. In the short term, what we should strive as a nation is to have a stable Malawi kwacha exchange rate. In the long run, the viable option is in ensuing a competitive export market is increased productivity among exporting firms. This may include export diversification and implementing measures to limit market imperfections.

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